It was announced this week that U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have outlined dramatic goals in carbon reduction. This decision will likely be a high point at the United Nations Climate Conference in Paris next winter, and could also make climate change a priority at the upcoming G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia.
"We hope to encourage all major economies to be ambitious—all countries, developing and developed—to work across some of the old divides, so we can conclude a strong global climate agreement next year," President Obama said at a press conference on Wednesday.
China and the United States have the largest economies and the highest manufacturing outputs in the world, so it probably isn’t too surprising that these two countries also top the charts in carbon emissions as well. In 2008, these two countries accounted for 42% of all carbon emissions in the world. Both countries have used one another as an excuse not to make dramatic changes, so this partnership has the potential to do a considerable amount of good, in addition to encouraging other top polluters like India and Russia to follow suit.
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that contributes to the warming climate because it holds in heat that would otherwise have escaped through the atmosphere. Climatologists have been saying for years that drastic changes are necessary in order to mitigate the warming trends predicted, otherwise there will be devastating and irreversible changes to food production, polar ice, global sea levels, and wildlife.
In the early 1990s, many scientists set a goal to limit the rise of global temperature to 2˚C (3.6˚F) in order to prevent serious consequences to the planet. Though some have argued that the 2˚C figure itself is somewhat arbitrary and needs to be redefined, the call for drastically decreased emissions and limiting temperature increases is nearly universally encouraged.
"As the world's two largest economies, energy consumers and emitters of greenhouse gases, we have a special responsibility to lead the global effort against climate change," President Obama continued.
President Xi stated that China’s emissions will peak in 2030, and that 20% of the country’s energy will come from non-fossil fuel sources by that time. To hit this number, China will need to add 1,000 gigawatts of renewable and nuclear power to their grid.
President Obama has given the U.S. the goal of reducing carbon emissions by 26-28% of 2005 levels by 2025, with a midpoint goal of a 17% reduction by 2020.
While this might sound incredibly ambitious and has already drawn the ire of some of Obama’s political opponents, many of the necessary policies are already in place and making an impact. The U.S. was responsible for over 7,250 million metric tons of CO2 emissions in 2005, and has reduced that number to 6,525 million metric tons in 2012—a 10% decrease. Political hissy fits aren’t likely to interfere with this goal or current progress.
[Image credit: Photo courtesy of EPA]